Exercise: Martin Shields’ footballers


Part 1

Analyse Martin Shields’ photograph of two young footballers. What are the denotations and connotations of this image? You can write your answer in descriptive prose or make a bullet list if you find this easier.

Compare your findings with those of other students via the OCA student forums.

Part 2

Download from the OCA student site the tear sheet of the newspaper in which the Shields photograph was originally published.

Read the accompanying text and answer the following:

  • Does the text relate to your initial deconstruction of the image? If so, how?
  • Does the text change your perception of the image? If so, how?


Part 1

Screen Shot 2016-04-20 at 12.35.18.png
© Martin Shields

Denotation – the photo shows us:

  • Two young friends from rival football teams
  • Walking through a rundown area
  • Possibly on their way back from playing a match
  • They are in the very front of the image’s depth, with the path ahead stretching out in front of them

Connotation – the photo tells us:

  • That there are prospects for peace in a place divided by sectarian tension [my guess was Glasgow from the striped kit]
  • That the journey to peace starts with this generation
  • That the path ahead might be long and difficult

Other responses

Other students managed to find more than I did in the image, both at a denotative and connotative level, e.g.:

  • Denotative: overcast sky, stony ground, lack of other signs of life, ages of the boys, cleanliness of the kit (and so likelihood that they are in fact in the way to a match), possibility that it was posed
  • Connotative: working class (football is a working class sport), gloomy outlook (sky), obstacles on the way ahead (uneven ground)

Part 2

Screen Shot 2016-04-20 at 13.00.43.png

The text does not match my deconstruction of the image! I had – like most students – focused on the boys in the foreground instead of the housing in the background.

I had correctly identified Glasgow as the location, but projected an imaginary narrative about local rivalry.

The text does change my perception of the image, in as much as I prefer my version! – as in, it makes more sense to have those component parts in a photograph that matches my explanation than the real story.

The image is heavy with unintentional symbolism – a story about housing risks getting viewers confused as to whether there’s a sectarian angle.

Two learnings here:

  • Watch out for unintentional symbolism as it can skew the narrative
  • Images and text need each other to make full sense of a story


http://www.oca-student.com/sites/default/files/oca-content/key-resources/res-files/footballboys.pdf (accessed 20/04/2016)


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